After My First Pokémon GO Fest, It's True — There's No Community Like the 'Pokémon GO' Community

Sara Belcher - Author

Aug. 21 2023, Published 4:09 p.m. ET

In front of the Snorlax at Pokémon GO Fest NYC
Source: Sara Belcher

Traveling for a gameplay experience isn't necessarily uncommon, but few games have opportunities for those outside professional tournaments. If you're not ready to go pro, your best way to make friends is via the internet or in matches with strangers — but Pokémon GO has always been a bit different.

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When the mobile AR title was released in July 2016, it seemed just about everyone was playing Pokémon GO. Every trainer scouted out their local neighborhood to pinpoint where the closest PokéStops and gyms were, and the internet is still filled with jokes about how that was the "closest we've ever been to world peace."

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Though the game's inaugural hype is long over, there are still hundreds of thousands of dedicated Pokémon GO players from all over the world, each of them striving to complete their PokéDex, Shiny hunt, and catch the Legendary and Mythical beasts featured in high-level raids. But even for dedicated players, isn't traveling thousands of miles (sometimes overseas) to play a free mobile game a bit overkill?

Well, Niantic invited Distractify to attend Pokémon GO Fest during its weekend in NYC, where over 70,000 people were expected to visit to play the well-loved mobile game. And as a first-time attendant, I can confidently say it was the most fun I've ever had playing Pokémon.

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In our interview with Michael Steranka, the Product Director for Pokémon GO, he said: "That to me is just the epitome of their Pokémon GO experience, right? Going to a brand new place that you may have never been to before, exploring it, catching Pokémon along with other trainers from around the world. There's truly nothing like that in gaming or otherwise."

And he's right — there's truly nothing like it.

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You might be wondering just how much community one could possibly feel in a park where everyone is glued to their phones. Though my day was filled with more walking than I'd done collectively in a month and a drastic increase in my daily screen time, it reignited the sense of community I'd only previously felt when Pokémon GO was first released.

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This isn't just a gathering of people who like the play Pokémon in one place. Niantic took incredible care to ensure that everything ran smoothly. Free shuttle buses transported attendants into the park, covering the difficult last leg of the trip into Randall's Island. Despite the thousands in attendance, cell service truly never wavered as I played.

There were power banks scattered around for those who'd forgotten their chargers (we've all been there), the first IRL Pokémon gym, and even a quiet room for those with small children or sensory issues who needed a few minutes away from the noise and people. Not only was the experience optimized for gameplay, but it was made with trainers of all ages and needs in mind.

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As someone who often plays Pokémon GO alone in an area where there aren’t that many active players, Five-Star and Mega Raids are almost impossible to win. Many of the Legendary monsters have eluded me since these raids are best (and most successfully) done in large groups. But even though I wasn't exploring the park with friends, every Raid lobby was filled with players ready to battle, and I walked home with multiple Legendaries in my inventory for the first time ever.

Even as a solo experience, Pokémon GO Fest is an opportunity to revisit the pure joy that comes with dedicating a few hours to play a childhood favorite, and it's an experience that continues even after your four-hour window at the park. Pokémon is one of the highest-grossing international franchises, and its community is filled with thousands of players across ages and backgrounds that make in-person experiences like GO Fest truly original.

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